Team Helicopter Eela in the house, Kajol was lit

She chatted, joked and laughed the Kajol laugh

By Priyanka Roy and Team T2 in Calcutta
  • Published 10.10.18, 11:37 PM
  • Updated 11.10.18, 7:40 AM
  • 13 mins read
  •  
Kajol Rashbehari Das

She had us at that infectious laugh and that dazzling smile. Gorgeous in a cheery canary yellow sari, Kajol walked into the t2 office on Tuesday morning and made it one big party. Accompanied by the team of her Friday film Helicopter Eela — director Pradeep Sarkar and co-stars and Calcutta boys Tota Roy Choudhury and Riddhi Sen — the effervescent actress we have loved through the years — Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to Dilwale — chatted with Team t2 for about an hour on playing a mom in the film, what makes her chemistry with Shah Rukh Khan tick and her lasting Durga Puja memory.

“I can’t come to Calcutta and not eat mishti doi. I will diet tomorrow!” is the first thing Kajol announces as soon as she walks into the t2 office and spots a plate of Doi Rosogollar Panna Cotta — courtesy Spice Kraft — on the table. She quickly digs into one and looks up with a satisfied smile. 

First, a gallery of Kajol’s moods

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Kajol Rashbehari Das
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Kajol Rashbehari Das
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Kajol Rashbehari Das
Million-watt smile: Kajol poses with the cake as Pradeep Sarkar goes click-click.
Million-watt smile: Kajol poses with the cake as Pradeep Sarkar goes click-click. Rashbehari Das

From the trailer, Helicopter Eela seems like a lot of fun…

It was! It was awesome fun! We had such a blast! Kudos to Dada (Pradeep Sarkar) for making it happen; I don’t think we would have had as much fun without his special sense of humour. He is the captain of the ship and the captain of the ship always dictates what the mood on the set will be like. So we would not have had as much fun without him.

It is a mother-son story. Is that why you took this up?

Kajol: It isn’t so much a mother-son story as it is about relationships. Honestly, I loved the script. In the concept note, I loved that we are talking about a mother and son, but that we had so many other things to tell — things relevant in today’s day and time, like teenage angst, single parenthood, mother-son relationship — their angst and their love.

What I loved is that you are talking about women’s genes. But at the same time it’s not preachy. It’s not trying to shove anything down your throat. It’s got Dada’s brand of humour and his sensitivity. He has this amazing Bengali sensitivity, which is probably a common Bengali man trait. (Points to Pradeep Sarkar) Look at him being humble right now and fishing for compliments! Keno Dada, keno?

Riddhi Sen: I think everybody on the set has said this word! Even when (Amitabh) Bachchan Sir came to shoot, he ended up saying ‘Kyaano?!’

Kajol: All Bengali men have this habit of saying ‘Kyaaaano?’

Pradeep Sarkar: Bachchan Sir said ‘Keno’ and Kajol started laughing immediately. Most of the time he talks to me in Bengali. So I said something and he asked, ‘Keno?!’ (Everyone laughs)

As a person and a mother, is Eela anything like you?

Kajol: I think she is a super, over-exaggerated version of everyone. I’m about 40 per cent Eela. If she is a helicopter, I am a drone — smaller, less noise, watches from a distance and when I need to, there is a missile attached to it! (Laughs)

Kajol and Riddhi, do you remember the first time you met?

Kajol: This Riddhi ‘Dada’ will tell you!

Riddhi: The first day I went to Dada’s office was the day I got to know that I was in the film. That evening she came down to the office and we met. It was a pretty formal ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’ and yes, I was nervous. What was scary was that the next day Dada started doing his famous audiobook. He does an audiobook before he shoots a film. So the next day, I already started working with her. That was scary!

Kajol: Give the details, na! There are some 500 interviews we have done already. The first time he started this story differently and with every telling there is more masala! In the last interview, he was like, ‘You know, my hands were cold!’ He is writing his own book! (Everybody laughs)

Riddhi: My hands were cold, they were! But on set, it was nothing like that. I don’t think there was any time to bond or break the ice. She is such an amazing personality and a wonderful human being. There is something that just clicked. If you have to bond with someone, it either happens on the first day or it never happens.

Pradeep Sarkar: You have to give that to her. I don’t have the habit of restricting anyone. You can’t say, ‘Yeh karna hai, yeh nahin karna hai’ you just have to let go. She is so spontaneous! That’s why I keep it flexible. The whole idea of ‘This is the storyboard, you have to stick to it’ doesn’t work.

Kajol: What I love about Dada is what every actor dreams of — that he can take something unexpected out of you. As actors, we have a prescribed idea of what we are going to do in a film. We have that idea ki yahaan se yahaan tak graph jayega. But when a director pulls you in a different direction, pulls something new out of you that you could not have anticipated, that surprises you as an actor.

What was the Bong connection on the set like? Did you connect over food?

Kajol: We connected over food, big time!

Cue for Kajol to ask what’s been served on the table. “Why do you have a vegetarian dish? I am strictly non- vegetarian!” she giggles, going for a piece of the Kancha Lonka Murgir Arancini from Spice Kraft before shifting her attention back to the mishti doi.

Kajol: When I was 19, I came here with my dad (Shomu Mukherjee) for a three-day trip and I had mishti doi for breakfast, lunch and dinner! When I am in Calcutta why should I eat anything other than mishti doi?!

Riddhi: We even celebrated Poila Baisakh on the sets of Helicopter Eela.

Tota Roy Choudhury: The first meeting at Dada’s house, boudi (points to Pradeep Sarkar’s wife) made us paatishapta. It was Poush Sankranti…

Kajol: (Continuing to dig into mishti doi) I will go home and work out… TOMORROW! Honestly, the part I adore about Dada is how he’s always busy promoting Bengali culture. And he is so busy converting everybody to ‘Bengalism!’ People on set who were not Bengali started speaking in Bengali and that too fluently!

Riddhi: People would easily understand even if they didn’t speak it.

Kajol: But at the end of it, everyone started speaking fluently also. Everyone would scream, ‘Hobe na, hobe na!’

SAY CHEESE! Team Helicopter Eela goes ‘Yay’ as they cut the ‘Kajol’ cake!
SAY CHEESE! Team Helicopter Eela goes ‘Yay’ as they cut the ‘Kajol’ cake! Rashbehari Das

Dada, why did you want to make this film?

Pradeep Sarkar: When I heard the script, I started connecting… Connecting… connecting.... And I wanted to work with her.

Kajol: For a while…. we have been discussing it for so long!

Pradeep Sarkar: Kuch toh karna hai, kuch toh karna hai. And then this guy (points to Riddhi) grew up and suddenly he popped up… taaan! And that’s it… I couldn’t resist.

Kajol: Talking to Dada is a visual delight, na?

Pradeep Sarkar: Kajol’s humour… it’s fantastic. Some faces can take humour and some faces just can’t. She can bring out humour very well. Think of Utpalda (Dutt) who looked so cute saying, ‘Eeeesh!’ Imagine someone else saying it…

Kajol: Imagine Dilip Kumar saying it! Or Raaj Kumar in his ‘Jaani’ tone (laughs). You cannot imagine anyone else doing it and getting away with it.

Pradeep Sarkar: In Parineeta, there were many crying scenes and so there was no humour. Mardaani mein humour daalne ka soch bhi nahin saka! Here, I have put in a lot of humour.

Kajol: Itna bhi humour nahin hai, Dada! Achhi picture hai! (Everyone laughs)

A ‘Kajol special’ cake — with some of her most iconic screen characters and courtesy Paris Cafe — is brought in. Kajol and her Helicopter Eela co-stars have fun spotting Simran from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Anjali from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Priya from Baazigar and Mandira from My Name Is Khan on the cake. Kajol cuts the cake with visible glee and as Pradeep Sarkar clicks a picture of her with it, she goes, ‘No Dada… no Dada…keno Dada… hobe na… hobe na!’

In the trailer, you and Riddhi look and feel like a real-life mother and son. Did that happen organically or did it develop over time?

Riddhi: I think it was a mixture of both and it increased over time.

Kajol: Riddhi and I were written into this film, but Tota was the most amazing and unexpected joy of the movie.

Pradeep Sarkar: Brilliant!

Riddhi, both your parents are actors. How involved are they in your career choices?

Riddhi: They never interfere or tell me to do this film or not to do that film. But if I have any confusion, they are always there. But they have taught me how to choose good scripts and as long as I am having fun, everything is okay. 

Kajol digs into her favourite mishti doi.
Kajol digs into her favourite mishti doi. Pabitra Das

Priyanka: What was Ajay like as producer on this film? You’ve said he’s made you work harder than any producer you’ve worked with before…

Kajol: This question the three men here will answer… and you guys know what to say, okay? (Everyone laughs)

Pradeep Sarkar: When he was about to start the film, I was in hospital and he decided to wait for me. He also pushed back the release date of the film by a month because I wasn’t well. He’s really a different sort of a person. He’s much younger to me but there is a mutual bharosa. He’s so calm, kuch usko fark nahin padta…

Kajol: Fark toh padta hai… sirf bata ta nahin kisi ko! (Laughs)

Pradeep Sarkar: He’s a solid person… great at heart.

For most of us, you and Shah Rukh Khan have the greatest screen chemistry ever in Hindi films. You have done films together sporadically in the last few years and yet the chemistry feels fresh every time. What do you attribute that to?

Kajol: I attribute it to a long friendship and some great films we’ve done together. I think it makes a great difference if you have cinematic history. Three-four of our films did phenomenally well. They were love stories and had great music to back them up. I think people relate to what you make them believe on screen and we made them feel amazing about themselves. We made them smile… and I think people like to see us together…

Love!

Kajol: Okay, you can say ‘love’, I’ll say ‘like!’ (Laughs)

Shrestha: Kajol, who are the three people you could call from the industry at any given time?

Kajol: My husband for one, he is a part of the film industry, then my mom and my sister (Tanishaa)! Half of my family is on the billboards ya… ab kya karein?! (Laughs)

Durga Puja is around the corner. What’s your favourite Puja memory?

Kajol: When I was very young, I remember my whole family coming and sitting on the floor on those long mats, which we as children had to unroll. Then all the children would put the paatas on the floor. It used to be a huge family affair (at the Mukherjee puja in Mumbai that’s still celebrated every year), right from my uncles to my aunts to my cousins…. There were the same faces that you kept seeing and we would recognise them and go, ‘Kemon achho? Bhalo?’

I remember being given this big bowl of bhaja and we were only allowed to serve the bhaja because we were not old enough to serve anything else. Of course, we would be eating and serving, eating and serving! (Laughs) We were allowed to run around the kitchen and we would stay there from 7am till 11.30pm.

That was the feel of Puja for me and that was my time with my dad. From the time I could walk I have been at that puja. I love the Pujas! Of course, now it’s become much bigger and you have to dress up in the most uncomfortable clothes. But then, Puja was just about us. Most of the people who came for the puja were all Bengali and now the whole world lands up for it. Back then, everybody would speak, look, feel Bengali in every which way.

Pradeep Sarkar: What a beautiful memory…it’s like oi Charulata-r scene ta. It’s so vivid and beautiful.. Eita hochhey Kajol! Phot kore bole dey and aar kintu bolbe na. She goes with the flow and you have to capture that. Record korechhe keu eta? You won’t get this ever again… this is one take!

Riddhi: My grandfather’s house in Behala is 150 years old and we have had puja there for 100 years… there’s a proper Durga daalan. There used to be so many people coming in and I never liked the crowd. But inside the Durga daalan, it was such a peaceful place. I also remember coming to Flurys for breakfast on Ashtami and having the famous pancake and ice cream.

And also in 2015, I started dating properly… you know, Puja prem... and it’s lasted four years now.

Tota: Like a true-blue Bengali, I proposed to my wife during Puja…. And unlucky for her and lucky for me that we are still together.

‘Fan’ Tota replicates the trademark Shah Rukh Khan pose for Kajol
‘Fan’ Tota replicates the trademark Shah Rukh Khan pose for Kajol Pabitra Das

Since this is a mother-child story, what’s the influence that your mom Tanuja has had on you?

Kajol: I think she is one of the bravest women, an amazing woman, very far ahead of her time. Even today, she’s much braver than I ever could be. I try… I succeed probably 60-70 per cent of the time. I am thankful for the things that she has taught me, and I will be for the rest of my life. The kind of things that she taught me when I was a kid were the things that I implemented as an adult, and that has stayed in my subconscious.

As a kid, when I would get angry, she used to ask me, ‘Will you let anger win?’ I thought that was the most frustrating line from a parent. I was rarely right in most situations (laughs), but the few times that I was right, I felt at least somebody should be on my side. But when you grow up and in certain situations in life, you suddenly realise that you let this other person win. It suddenly hits you. You suddenly grow up in spurts, in little epiphanies. So, there are so many things I am constantly grateful to her for.

When my daughter (Nysa) was three months old, I called up my mom and told her that I did not know how much you loved me, how much you took care of me, and what all you put into me till I had my own child. You will never understand how much your mother loves you till you have your own children.

We loved the Ruk ruk number recreated for Helicopter Eela… it just brought the ’90s back! What made you pick that song?

Pradeep Sarkar: We wanted a song which is of that time, that era…. Isse zyada main bolunga toh kahaani nikal aayegi!

Kajol: I think the first 10 beats of the song immediately transport you to the ’90s… it’s such a typical ’90s song and when it starts with that beat (mimicks the Ruk ruk opening beat), then you immediately flash back to Vijaypath (1994) and Ajay Devgn and Tabu. That fit our film really well because we have an entire retro portion. And we have Anu Malik in a cameo in the film… so it made things easier!

Tota, being a Kajol fan, was the experience of sharing screen space with her everything you had hoped it would be?

Tota: I told her I am a fan on the last day! (Everyone laughs) Dada called me and said, ‘Aami chhobi korchi’. So I was like, ‘Great’. And he was like, ‘Jiggesh kor ke achhe!’ He said Kajol… and there was a pause… and I asked, ‘Oh, new girl?’ And then he said, ‘Kaaaaajol!’. And then he said, ‘You are opposite Kajol!’ The minute he said that I started doing cartwheels in my head! (Laughs)

The first day I met her was at Dada’s house and when I came face to face with her, I was like (makes a Zen-like face). Come on, I was representing Bengal! (Everyone goes LOL)

Kajol: Ya, the son of Calcutta!

Tota: While shooting, I would look at the console and think, ‘Is that me with Kajol?!’

Did you pinch yourself?

Tota: Many times! On the last day, I went up to her and said, ‘I have been wanting to do something for the last 22 years and you must allow me to do that’. And I stood there and did this (stretches his hands out to do the trademark Shah Rukh Khan pose)

Kajol: I was like, ‘What?! What was that?!’ (Laughs)

What was the reaction of your children to you as a ‘helicopter mom’ in the trailer?

Kajol: My son (Yug) was not surprised at all! He was like, ‘It’s okay, it’s nice… mom’s on TV’. But I have to tell you that my children don’t like my films! They think I don’t make good films…

What?!

Kajol: Yaaaaa! They keep saying, ‘We don’t like watching you cry on screen… why don’t you do fun films like Papa (Ajay Devgn)? Why don’t you do something like Golmaal? Have you ever seen Papa cry on screen?’ They fire me left and right! (Laughs)

This film, Nysa has seen… Yug hasn’t. And she’s howled and howled. I kept telling her to calm down but she was like, ‘Why do you have to cry so much in the film?!’ I have told them this is one ‘vice’ I have… I like making this kind of film.

Tota: The bond that she has with Yug is great. He’s such a well brought-up kid…

Kajol: You’ve probably seen him on one of his good days! (Laughs)

Tota: I once saw her interacting with Yug and it is so much like how Vivaan (Riddhi’s character) interacts with Eela in the film… so loving, so caring… such a well-mannered kid. Full marks to Kajol for being a super mom.

Kajol, you’ve always followed your heart… from getting married at your prime to having kids, taking a break and then coming back to movies… you have balanced your life well. But does the whole ‘making a comeback’ thing stress you out?

Kajol: First of all, I want to say I had the financial stability to do all those things and make all those choices. Honestly, this whole ‘comeback’ thing… I don’t take any stress over things I can’t control. I can’t control the outcome of this film. Whatever I can control, I will.

Honestly, I’ve never had a problem facing the camera. For the audition of my first film (Bekhudi, 1992), I remember Rahul uncle (Rahul Rawail, the film’s director) telling me to read out a scene. I read out the scene, and that was it. I remember telling myself that it was the most daft thing I had ever done! (Laughs) I kept wishing that math had been this easy when I was in school! I am someone who is not camera conscious at all. The only thing I can’t do well is a photo session… I am horrendous at it! (Laughs) Dada is very good at photo sessions… he knows his camera angles (winks).

Riddhi: And he pouts!

Kajol: Yes, he pouts! (Everyone laughs as Pradeep Sarkar grins)

Did your phone blow up when your husband recently tweeted out your number?

Kajol: My phone was off, thank god! I was in Singapore to meet Nysa and she wasn’t well. I didn’t have the time to look at the phone at all. And this continued till I landed in Bombay. And before I left, I remember AJ (Ajay Devgn) muttering that he was planning something, but it completely slipped my mind. And when I switched on my phone, I was like, ‘This is what you planned?! Really?! Seriously?!’

Before this, have you been at the receiving end of his famous pranks?

Kajol: Not really! Which is why I was taken aback! I had always been a part of the jokes — I was part of the team — and with this, he made me the butt of his jokes! (Shrugs and laughs)